My Dear Shepherds,
One of the delightful benefits of retirement is that I never have to write another annual report. Each year for over 40 years I’d try to recap our highlights and accomplishments, knowing that I couldn’t quantify what mattered most.
Imagine beginning your report with Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, “You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results” (1 Thess. 2:1). People would read on expecting the next paragraphs to detail results like the number of baptisms, increased attendance and giving, new small groups, and so on. But Paul noted none of these metrics so familiar to us. Instead, he wrote,
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ … You became imitators of us and of the Lord … so you became a model to all the believers …. (1 Thess. 1:3, 6, 7)
Imagine Paul giving that report at a pastors’ conference. “So Paul,” someone would ask, “what’s your secret? How can my church be like that?” And he would answer,
[W]e speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. (v. 4)
When we speak—you and I—we may not be Apostles but we are in the same Wordworkers’ Union as brother Paul; we are among “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” All four groups speak God’s Word in different ways, blending like the parts in a choir.
Paul described his speaking in verses 2-3, “with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel …” and, “the appeal we make …,” all Wordwork. To regard ourselves only as communicators is an understatement. Leave that word to motivational speakers, politicians, and educators. We speak as shepherds leading sheep, as heralds trumpeting the decrees of the kingdom, and as ambassadors appealing to those unreconciled to God.
Paul went on, “We speak as those approved by God …,” or as The Message puts it, “God tested us thoroughly to make sure we were qualified to be trusted with this Message.” Our calling is certainly a grace-gift from God but it comes with strings attached. James warned, “we who teach will be judged more strictly,” setting the bar of self-control very high: “never at fault in what they say.”
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
Recently I participated in an ordination council. For several hours we probed our way through our brother’s fifty-page theology paper. We learned of his salvation and call. We heard confirmation from others of his godliness, gifts, and shepherd’s heart. In the end, we concurred that God had indeed approved him to the work of the gospel.
All sensible pastors know how unqualified we are for this work, no matter how arduous our preparation of heart and mind. Yet, despite how much we’ve yet to learn from Scripture, despite our inadequate praying, misplaced priorities, sin, and foolishness, when we speak out the vast wonders of the gospel, publicly or privately, we carry the approval and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, we know full well the risks of becoming disqualified. Our work must never “spring from error or impure motives,” never any tricks, flattery, or greed. But we also trust in him “who is able to keep you from falling.”
My dear shepherds, take heart. Your work will “not be without results,” regardless of the metrics, so long as you “speak as one approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.”
Be ye glad!